Last visited: November 12, 2011
Location: Montreal, QC (Plateau Mont Royal)
Address: 3927 Rue St-Denis
Nearby subway stop: Sherbrooke
Price Range: $20-30+ ($20-25 Mains)
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: Tres Excellent!!
Food: 4 – 4.5 (based on what I tried)
Service: 2.5 (friendly, but inattentive)
- Since 1980
- Local favourite
- Classic French-bistro
- French & English menu
- Award winning
- Casual, but nice
- Moderate-higher priced
- Affordable wines
- Mon-Fri: 8am-2am
- Saturday 10am-2am
- Sunday 10am-1am
**Recommendations: Bone Marrow with Coarse Salt, Octopus & Lentil Salad, Homemade Raviolis, Hanger Steak & Fries
I think I walked by this place twice. I was looking up for the sign, not down! If I didn’t know I would have walked right by it (as I did) and it didn’t look like anything special. Luckily I knew ahead of time it was a local favourite and had requests for it on Twitter. Even if you’re a local and you haven’t been here, it’s likely you’ve at least heard of it. Its discrete exterior speaks of its humble beginnings and although it still remains family owned, it’s operated by a gigantic staff of 50 and opens for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
I wasn’t expecting the restaurant to be this busy, but the traffic was steady and seats were always full whether it was at the tables or the bar. The space was open, but it felt homey, yet lively and not loud. The atmosphere is unpretentious and there’s nothing really fancy or gimmicky about it. It’s a nice restaurant, but it’s nothing you would have to dress up for, and it embraced the ambiance of a classic French bistro with an extensive affordable wine list and a hand written menu.
L’Express offers homemade French-Canadian cuisine and the food won’t blow you away, but it may surprise you. It’s honest, simple, and well executed. From what I tried it wasn’t anything I’d rave about, but also nothing I’d complain about. The menu is fairly large with a few occasional seasonal features, but it’s more or less a place you’ve come to grown and love.
It has a loyal following and from a tourist perspective I assume it’s because it’s a reliable classic. It felt like a place for a birthday lunch or Sunday brunch and I found it quite charming. It has an old fashioned character to it, which can be seen as boring or dated, but the food speaks for itself and I did enjoy it. I would be curious to try a few more things on the menu, but I’m not sure if it’s a place I’ll remember or make a priority on my next visit.
Note: This lunch was arranged and partially comped by Tourism Montreal. There are no expectations for the outcome of this post and opinions are honest.
On the table:
- Geez, everywhere in Montreal and Quebec seems to have great bread.
- It was served cold as it usually is at casual bistros in France.
- It was a nice and crusty baguette with a crispy exterior and chewy stretchy middle.
**Octopus Lentil Salad in Vinaigrette – 4.5/6
- I tried to order the bone marrow, but they were sold out so this was my plan B appetizer.
- It was a chilled salad that felt more appropriate for the summer, but I still enjoyed it in the fall.
- I thought the presentation was cute and the portion was fair making it suitable as a light lunch.
- It was very simple, but very well executed.
- The octopus was very tender and not chewy at all and the flavours were reminiscent of a lightly dressed shrimp salad.
- The round slices of octopus were meaty, but tender and the middle of the dome was topped with mashed up octopus, which was the part that seemed like “shrimp salad”.
- It was light and refreshing and executed the French way with good quality fruity olive oil and lemon juice rather than the American mayo based dressing.
- The lentils were packed inside and it was a very juicy and citrusy salad.
- It was well seasoned with little bits of tomato to develop the acidity and keep it fresh, but it was by no means a sour or pickled salad.
- I wouldn’t have minded some Dijon or grainy mustard to just bring it up a notch and give it an added layer of flavour.
- The saltiness of the lentils tasted like capers or olives rather than just salt, but there were no capers and the only olives I saw were used as garnish around the plate.
- Although light, this salad had meaty texture and lots of protein so it felt substantial.
- It was very simple, but very good, and since it’s not something I would make at home, I would order it again. However I’d try something else before going back to it.
It was also served with a bottle of good quality extra virgin olive oil, but I didn’t need it.
- It was a toss up between this and the Steak Frites. My server said those were two of the house favourites and couldn’t help me decide, so I just went with the homemade ravioli since it would require more effort.
- As soon as it hit the table it smelled fantastic!
- This was a very home style ravioli and although the portion didn’t look big for the price, it was a rich, decadent and substantial dish.
- This is not a traditional Italian restaurant so it’s not comparable to that type of ravioli.
- It was 6 fairly large pieces of ravioli swimming in an incredibly rich, silky smooth, sweet and savoury mushroom jus.
- It tasted as heavy as a syrupy demi-glace (reduction of red wine and veal stock) and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was. It was heavy enough for a steak.
- The sauce was very salty though, but I still finished it all and dipped my baguette in it.
- It would have been great with wild mushrooms, but again it’s a home style bistro.
- The ravioli skins were quite eggy, slippery and soft and they were a bit thick and not firm like the more traditional Italian raviolis.
- There was a bit more skin than filling, but they were still decently stuffed with a creamy mixture of meat which included veal, pork and beef.
- The combination of the 3 meats were quite obvious and it seemed like a meat ragu stewed in a creamy and almost cheesy pesto sauce.
- The stuffing was almost like mini meatballs, shredded pork confit and bits of ground beef and it wasn’t heavy with meat, but the meat was tender and there.
- This was delicious and I would order it again and recommend it.
- You know you’re in Quebec when… maple comes up all the time!
- Dessert appeals to me, but a Maple Sugar Tart doesn’t really because it sounds really sweet. But, you almost have to try one in Quebec or Canada since it’s a “national food”.
- This is a house favourite, but it is rich and almost hurts your teeth sweet.
- It’s a fairly large home made tart and a 1/4 was more than enough for me. It’s almost a one biter dessert.
- It was served chilled and the crust was too hard and thick for me and I prefer the tender flaky tart shells.
- Even as a hard tart shell I prefer a shortbread like crust and this one was still on the harder crunchy side.
- The top wasn’t as crispy as I’ve had on Maple Sugar Tarts before, and I do like the ones that almost have a crispy caramelized brulee topping.
- As soon as you cut into it, it oozes out a rich and creamy fluid of smooth maple butter and caramel like filling.
- It was almost like melted Whether’s Originals and it was really sweet, but not sticky and more buttery.
- There wasn’t much maple syrup flavour though and a good one should have a strong maple syrup flavour.
- Since I’ve only had a few of these in my life, I would say it was very good. But if you’re a Maple Sugar Tart connoisseur, this is good as a Sugar Pie, but only okay as a Maple Sugar Tart. There is better and the lack of maple flavour is a bit disappointing.
What strikes me as slightly disconcerting is that if I had never been to L’Express, after reading about your experience I would not ever really feel inspired. However, as you know, I have been many, many times and it remains one of my favourites in the city. Is it weird that I am disappointing you did not have the wonderful experience I had hoped you would?
p.s. you should have gone for the steak frites 🙂
and by disappointing I of course meant DISAPPOINTED
@Kathryn – I tweeted you this, but this is to make it more permanent! And for blog readers 🙂 Aww! Definitely not! I loved ur local fav! I’d go back to L’Express! If 1 day in Montreal not sure, but overall thumbs up!
If I had 3 days in Montreal I’d definitely put this on the list. It’s family friendly, casual, and inviting… but YES! I want to go back for Steak Frites!! I was contemplating ravioli or steak frites! Need to go back for the bone marrow too! I loved that it was genuinely a local fav… or at least it felt like one.
and lol no worries I didn’t see the mistake! 😉
My hunch most of the Montreal restaurants with great bread, don’t make it in-house(including L’Express).
Without knowing L’Express too well(maybe eaten there twice at the most), I would never describe L’Express as “offers homemade French-Canadian cuisine.” I would say offering traditional French bistro food(like in Paris).
@WS – that’s fine if it’s not made house, as long as it’s good bread, it’s good bread.
I did say it was a “classic French bistro”, but for me there’s a homemade/homey aspect to it all. It’s not fine dining basically and it’s a bit rough around the edges still that’s all.
Thanks for your comment.
holy cow, that octopus appy is HUGE! and finding the lentils inside is kind of scary… i think i’d like this dish more if it was presented a bit more appetizing lol
i don’t think i’ve ever seen you order so less food at one sitting! lol i was expecting this to be a super long post but it was literally only a 3 course meal! where’s the extra desserts?!?!?! 🙂
wow those ravioli’s look perfect – i’m glad you chose this instead of the steak just because, like you said, it takes more effort and there’s so much that could’ve gone wrong in this dish but it didn’t! glad it was delish!
@linda – I had another dessert after this so that’s why lol! I was going somewhere else for it lol. I tried ordering the bone in marrow, but they sold out 🙁